Girl, Interrupted is based on Susanna Kaysen’s memoir about having committed herself to the McLean Psychiatric Hospital near Cambridge, Massachusetts, the same place Sylvia Plath spent time. Unlike Plath’s The Bell Jar, however, or I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, material roughly similar, Kaysen’s has a surprising twist—she didn’t and still doesn’t know why she placed herself into an exclusive, expensive nuthouse. It’s important to note because if you see the movie cold, you’re apt to be infuriated by its apparent pointlessness. Knowing the author’s honesty, you’re still puzzled: director James Mangold, who wrote the screenplay, uses an inane, off-putting analogy of Dorothy trying to find her way back from a 60s Oz as means to coalesce the book’s characters and themes. Those who were caught up in the 60s upheavals would agree Vietnam and the state of government and social institutions were injurious to health, some escaping via drugs, sex and rock and roll to avoid the madness, but we wouldn’t regard Dorothy as analogous equivalent. Kaysen’s extreme in getting help for her supposed anti-social behavior (for example, she fell asleep during school graduation ceremonies; she hadn’t a clue what she wanted to be when she grew up) sounds like the shallow culmination of the socialization of psychoanalysis—going from 50s urban cocktail party psychobabble to mid-60s “psychodrama” television, through which Americans privately weighed their demons against the sickies on various shows. In short, we “shrinked” ourselves. As executive producer, Winona Ryder invests a great deal in Girl, Interrupted—certainly one of her better performances as Kaysen, whose story she’s close to because at 20 she also voluntarily entered a psychiatric hospital. Though Kaysen was diagnosed with “borderline personality disorder,” a catch-all unexplained in the movie, Ryder claims she suffered from anxiety attacks. (Given the extent of her klepto problems, this picture might have depths none of us were aware of earlier.) Most of the other characters go unexplained except for labels: one is a pathological liar, one a fire victim, another a dyke. Only the patient sexually abused by daddy gets clarified, thanks to sociopath Angelina Jolie’s hugely wrinkled collagen-lipped eagerness to push the victim over the edge. Jolie is juicy enough to win an Oscar as best supporting bitch. The movie attempts to tie troubling loose ends with Ryder’s voice-over narration, but she hasn’t the plangency—her voice, as it did in The House of the Spirits, dangles focus of intent—and she’s not helped by a summation wobbling on its own words.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.